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Medicine and Motherhood

Caring is innate in physicians and mothers alike. Northwestern Medicine physicians discuss what it means — and what it takes — to be both.

Denise Monahan, MD, Breast Surgery
Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital

What do you like to do with your children?

“I have two toddlers who are very close in age. It’s a great age because so much is new to them, and they are learning so much every day. But, my favorite part of our daily routine is dinner time. They help me cook dinner, and when we finish eating, we listen to records and run around the house. They laugh hysterically the whole time.”

How do you balance being a mom and physician?

“As a busy surgeon and a mom, I have to prioritize. Sometimes that means spending an extra hour playing or watching a movie together, and accepting that the kitchen is a mess or the laundry isn’t done. I know my time is limited, so when I’m home with my kids, I try hard to give them all my attention. I’m not on my phone or watching TV. All of that can wait until after they are asleep.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to balance it all?

“Life is short. I treat patients with cancer, so I think about this a lot. Not every day is great, but you have to make the most of your life. Set your own standards about what is important to you and your family, and don't give a second thought to what others think. Also, remember that you are setting a really good example for your children and teaching them lessons about work ethic, independence, accountability and yes, even balance!”

Marie Altimari, MD, Family Medicine
Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital

What do you like to do with your daughter?

“I love to do anything physically active with her, like going to the park, playing soccer or swimming. She is a very athletic 3-year-old, and I love to watch her on the playground. She has no fear, and it is so much fun to see her big smile when she accomplishes something new. Lately, we've been having dance parties in the living room. It’s so much fun to laugh and play together!”

How do you balance being a mom and physician?

“How do you obtain that elusive ‘perfect balance?’ I have no idea. Instead of trying to find the perfect balance, I try to live by the motto, ‘Do your best and forget the rest.’ I strive to provide excellent care to my patients. At home, I also try to be the best wife, mother and friend that I can be. I believe in single-tasking. As a physician, when I am in an exam room with a patient, the patient is the only thing I am focusing on; they have my complete and undivided attention. When I am playing with my daughter, she is my focus. Instead of saying, ‘Mom, look at me!’ like most kids, my daughter says, ‘See my eyes.’ I have no idea where she got it from, but I love it. She wants me to look her in the eyes and connect. It is a great reminder to be present in the moment.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to balance it all?

“It boils down to picking a good partner and setting boundaries. My husband is awesome, and we make a great team, equally contributing to the home and caring for our daughter. Being supportive of each other, despite our demanding careers, is central to our relationship. And, he does cute things like bringing me coffee in the morning and making my lunch. While we both work hard, we also have so much fun together, even while doing the simple things like getting coffee or making dinner.

“Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. It’s good to say no. Being successful in your personal and professional lives doesn’t mean needing to do everything. Choose what matters to you, and do those things well.”

Dinee C. Simpson, MD, Transplantation Surgery
Northwestern Memorial Hospital

What do you like to do with your sons?

“I have two boys, ages six and nine, and I love to be creative with them. Almost all our time spent together is creative in some way. I love to play piano duets with them. I taught them a Christmas duet to play together, just the two of them, and it was the best Christmas present ever to see them play together. They love costumes and get super excited when I make them something we can’t find in the store. We also love to do Perler beading, and make Minecraft and action figures that they play with more than store-bought toys! And, we love to read good books together. Currently we’re reading a great book about an evil alien warlord cat named Klawde.”

How do you balance being a mom and physician?

“I won’t lie: It is tough. I think ‘balance’ is a misnomer. For me, it’s more about how the scales tip each day; there is never a perfect ‘balance.’ Sometimes they tip in favor of work, sometimes in favor of family. I think the key is to make sure the scales don’t stay tipped to one side for too long.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to balance it all?

“Make sure time with family is quality time. This can make a little time feel like a lot. As much as I would love to sink into the couch when I get home, I don’t allow myself to do that until the kids are in bed (if I get home while they are still awake). I don’t take personal phone calls, and try my best to not answer personal texts during the time I am with them. Every night when I know I will be home by 6 pm, we make sure to have a family dinner where we all sit down together and talk about our day. A bedtime story is a must!”